May 31

Langer Catches Nicklaus – Player Interjects

Bernhard Langer Has Broken the Senior Major Win Mark Set by Nicklaus (and Player?)

A good part of the last decade has been spent agonizing over whether Tiger Woods would catch Jack Nicklaus, and eclipse his mark of 18 major wins on the PGA Tour. It turns out that we might have been following the wrong race, and if Gary Player has anything to say about it, we still don’t have it right. It’s about time that somebody caught Jack at something. Nicklaus is the most dominating golfer since Bobby Jones himself, especially where majors are concerned. And wouldn’t you know it, it took a 59-year old colleague to finally manage overtaking the legend in at least one category. In fact, in a sense, Bernhard Langer did it in a mere two weeks. Last week, he won the Traditions to drraw even, and this week, he nosed out Vijay Singh to forge ahead in the Traditions. Within that effort lies one more distinction. Langer is the first senior to win every major event on the Champions tour. That includes the Traditions, the Senior PGA, the Senior Players Championship, the U.S. Senior Open, and the Senior Open Championship. The never-before accomplished feat was affectionately termed the ‘Superslam’ for seniors, but until someone actually pulled it off, it might as well have been a breakfast dish at Dennys.

I always perceived that Bernhard Langer was somewhat anonymous as a younger man, but I could not have been more mistaken.  Even now, it shocks me when I am reminded that he won the Masters twice. For one thing, he hails from overseas. In those days, a lot of North Americans won the Masters. Secondly, he was so gracious and modest that I sometimes didn’t notice him, and even had to look twice when he topped the leaderboard, as if he’d been gone for a long time.
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Langer put it over the top in a final nine duel with the type of player against whom he shouldn’t thrive. Vijay Singh, several years Langer’ s junior, is tall, with a huge swing arc. He can put it down the fairway about as far as most of the youngsters on the PGA schedule. But when Langer putts well, distance is neutralized, as it was on the short par four 7th. Singh drove the green and missed an eagle putt, while Langer got on in regulation and sank the birdie putt. To win by a show of putting after being forced off the anchor putter by new rules, and having suffered sporadic bouts of the yips in his career, Langer provided an inspiring demonstration.

According to Gary Player, always quick to remind us of an oversight, claims that Langer’s accomplishment this week only means that he has moved into a tie with the South African for senior major wins. In spirit, Player makes a good point. He won the Senior PGA three times, the U.S. Senior Open twice, the Senior Players once, and the Senior British Open three times. His claim is only tripped up by the technicality that the British was not yet a major. He further suggests that although the Masters of 1934 was not of the stature it would eventually gain, we all call Masters winners major champions back to the first year. Regardless of the view anyone takes of that point, Player’s legacy of prolific wins is in no danger. Still, Langer has won the Denny’s plate, all five majors, and the way things are going, he might break through Player’s case by the next major senior event. Until that happens, we’ll all have to go back to gazing at the horizon to see if anyone will come along and beat the 18 majors mark of Nicklaus. It might take a while, so keep your eye on Langer.
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